Tie vote defeats leaders' pay cut

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A split Marshall County Commission on Monday defeated a motion to cut commissioners' pay by 30 percent as leaders on both sides said the measure was a "gesture."

Led by Commissioner Mickey King, the county's Budget Committee recommended the 18 commissioners be paid $21,300 less ($1,183.33 individually) during the fiscal year July 1 through June 30, 2010.

It would have been because of their request to "all county department heads to try to cut their budgets by 10-15 percent to help ease the burden on Marshall County taxpayers" and to "show their participation in this difficult economic time," according to the defeated resolution.

"This is more of a gesture," Commission Chairwoman Mary Ann Neill said and, while Commissioner Billy Spivey also used the word "gesture," he emphasized commissioners failed to use opportunities to save money on service contracts. Now, better prices are being sought on some services because of commission decisions on Monday. (Details on those issues will be in Friday's edition.)

The pay cut resolution was defeated because it failed to get a majority vote. With one commissioner absent, the remaining 17 commissioners voted: eight yes; eight no, and; one abstaining.

Several commissioners donate some or all of their county commission salary to charities, or worthy causes they select. They include Commissioners Dean Delk, Don Ledford, Seth Warf and Spivey.

"The donation is personal," Spivey said, declining to name the charity of his choice. "I'd like everybody to consider that I won't be able to continue that."

Ledford asked if Spivey donates all his commission pay and Spivey said he gives "a portion" but that he won't be able to replace it from his other income.

In a separate interview, Spivey said the pay cut resolution "distracts from inconsistencies" by commissioners in recent months.

Service vendors have complained that the lowest price wasn't selected by the Budget Committee which, because of a private act of the state Legislature, gives that panel authority to award contracts. Rebidding was recommended by County Attorney Ginger Shofner during commission discussion.

Spivey also criticized selection of a solid waste consultant after County Solid Waste Director Morgan Thomas offered substantially the same advice before the consultant was hired.

Recurring controversy over county property maintenance and repair services was also cited by Spivey.

Commissioner Rocky Bowden, chairman of the Marshall County Board of Public Utilities, asked if other elected officials were cutting their own pay and Neill replied those leaders had been asked to cut their operating budgets.

The county water utility led by Bowden isn't run with money from sales or property tax revenue. It does get development tax money on new construction, but utilities are to be self supported by ratepayers.

"I'll fall in line with Rocky," said Commissioner Wilford "Spider" Wentzel, making a distinction between pay and a department's operating budget.

Neill noted commissioner pay is almost all of the money in the operating budget for the commission.

Wentzel also said he was paid more when he was elected to the commission because pay was based on committee assignments.

Now, commissioners are paid one eighteenth of the salary paid to County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett. Statewide, county mayor salaries, and those of certain other county officials are set by the state based on population. Liggett's salary is about $68,000.

King stated the savings from the proposed pay cuts at nearly $23,200, or about half the money generated by each penny on the county property tax rate as calculated last summer.

Commissioner Richard Medley asked if 30 percent was a large enough reduction in commissioners' pay.

Neill acknowledged the point, but offered reasons from the budget Committee: "Our thinking was that it's very difficult to ask the taxpayers to pay for things when they're barely making ends meet. It's to ease the burden... Vote the way you need to."

Commissioner Jimmy Stitt reported he's seen more commissioners attend committee meetings when they're not on those panels and wouldn't be paid to attend under the old method of compensation.

Neill thanked commissioners for doing so and Commissioner Seth Warf said he hoped commissioners would volunteer pay cuts if the resolution failed.